O CONNELL’S POLITICAL POSITIONS RELATE DIRECTLY TO 21ST CENTURY CONCERNS
I have spent the last two weeks reading a lot about the life of Daniel O Connell.
He is a man for whom I have always felt an instinctive affection.
He had a vision that extended beyond Ireland. As he said of himself “my sympathy is not confined to the narrow limits of my own green Ireland.”
In his first days as an MP, after Catholic Emancipation allowed him to take his seat, he presented a petition from Cork against slavery in the colonies.
He suggested abolishing the practice of arresting people for debt without judicial procedure, and he spoke in favour of a petition supporting the rights of Jews (who, like Catholics, had been denied the right to be MPs).
He favoured the secret ballot and the reform of Parliament. He fought against the remaining duties on Irish exports of malt, coal and paper to Britain. He would not have been a supporter of Brexit.
Although he was not familiar with Ulster, he did try to reach out to Loyalists, even going so far as drinking a toast to King William at a dinner in Drogheda, a risky thing to do at any time!
He made big financial sacrifices for the causes in which he believed. He could have taken up high legal office, forinstance as Master of the Rolls, a highly remunerative legal office, but chose to stay in Parliament, as an unpaid MP, to fight on for the Repeal of the Union.
Like any good politician, he was assiduous in answering his correspondence. At one stage he was answering up to 200 letters a day, and, before he became an MP in 1829, the postage alone cost him as much as £10 per day, at a time when a £ was infinitely more valuable than it is today.
A CONSISTENT OPPONENT OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE
He had a deep aversion to politically motivated violence, an issue on which he differed with Thomas Davis and others who romanticised the 1798 Rebellion.
He told Dublin Corporation that, for a political purpose, he would
“not for all the universe consent to the effusion of a single drop of human blood except my own”.
On another occasion, he said,
“ Human blood is no cement for the temple of human liberty.”
It was because of his fear of the loss of life that he called off the monster meeting at Clontarf, a decision which the Young Ireland leaders consented to at the time, but subsequently criticised.
Asked afterwards to name the act of his political career of which he was most proud, he said it was not Catholic Emancipation, but the decision to cancel the mass meeting at Clontarf, and thereby prevent the
“plains of Clontarf being, for a second time, saturated with blood”.
He knew violence, once commenced, soon gets beyond the control of its initiators, as we learned in the 1916 to 1923 period.
He believed in passive resistance, and was innovative in devising ways to use it. He pioneered mass meetings, and parish level political organisation. In that sense, he was ahead of the rest of Europe. He was the founder of mass political participation, and this was recognised in other countries at the time.
Late in his career, in order to promote the cause of Repeal of the Union between Ireland and Britain, he suggested setting up a shadow parliament in Dublin and an Irish system of arbitration outside the UK dominated courts system. In 1919, both ideas that were revived by Sinn Fein and the IRB. Unfortunately, they were accompanied, at that later time, by physical violence, which defeated their purpose completely.
A PROPONENT OF JUSTICE ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
As I said at the outset, O Connell was an internationalist.
He worked for human rights across the globe. His opposition to human slavery was not confined to the colonies of the British Empire.
He opposed slavery in the United States, unlike the Young Irelander, John Mitchell, who subsequently actively supported it.
His opposition to slavery in the United States was deeply appreciated by those agitating within the US itself, for the abolition of slavery.
He refused political donations from slaveholders in the US.
He attacked the attempt to establish Texas as an independent slave owning state seceding from Mexico.
He criticised George Washington for owning slaves.
He clashed with the, Irish born, Catholic Bishop Hughes of New York who criticised him for his “intolerable interference in American affairs”.
O Connell’s most recent biographer, Patrick Geoghegan says his declarations on slavery were a key factor in alienating the Young Irelanders, who believed the Repeal Association should only address domestic, not foreign, affairs.
I believe that, to be true to O Connell’s legacy, Irish people in the twenty first century, must take their share of responsibility for facing up to the big international moral issues of our time. They must not confine their concern to their “own green Ireland”.
HOW HIS STANCES SHOULD INSPIRE US TODAY ON THE MIGRATION ISSUE
If O Connell could speak to us today he would remind us that we are a relatively well off country.
I read recently that if a person is earning more than 34000 euros a year, they are in the top one percent in the world in terms of income!
As in O Connell’s case with slavery, facing up to big moral questions has costs.
These moral issues of our time include climate change, and the drought, starvation and forced migration it is bringing in its wake in Africa.
Just as sophisticated and pragmatic arguments were advanced in the 19th century to postpone the abolition of slavery, sophisticated and pragmatic arguments are advanced today for postponing action on climate change.
Action on climate change, here or in the United States, could indeed damage competitiveness of some parts of the Irish or the American economies, just as abolition of slavery damaged the competitiveness of the cotton states of the US over 100 years ago. It could be argued that the labour intensive cotton economy of the southern states would have been impossible without the cheap labour provided by slaves.
Likewise the mass migration that has been caused, at least in part, by climate change will cause difficulties in the societies in which migrants arrive, just as the mass migration of former slaves to the northern cities of the US caused problems, including race riots, in the cities of the northern US from the 1860’s up to the present day.
These issues are still with us. Migration, and the challenges it can cause for countries in Europe, are issues to which I would like to turn to now.
Let us put it in context. Europe’s population is declining. Its birth rate is 1.6. A birth rate of 2.1 would be needed to maintain the population.
I heard it said recently that, in the next 20 years, on present trends (without immigration), Europe’s population will decline faster than at any time since the Black Death in the 14th century.
It is possible that immigration will belie that prediction. But, as we know, some ageing European countries have a difficulty in accepting immigrants with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Germany is a notable exception. Our nearest neighbour is not.
Meanwhile, in Africa the available workforce is expanding rapidly. Over half of the prospective population growth in the world in the next thirty years will be in Africa. But the African economies are creating only one job for every three young people reaching working age. That explains the surge of emigration in Africa, a lot of which is going to other African countries.
When I was born, in 1947, Europeans were 25% of the world population. Now, Europeans are only 7.5% of the world’s population, and by 2050 we will be just 6%. This is because the population elsewhere has risen so fast, while our population has stood still,
Europe’s population is getting older, partly because it is living longer. The average age in Europe is 40, whereas the average age in Africa is 20. By 2030, without immigration, the German working age population was set to decline by one sixth.
MIGRATION AS AN ANTIDOTE TO THE AGEING OF SOCIETIES
I heard one economist respond recently, when people complained to him that Europe’s growth rate had not returned to the level of the 1990’s, that present growth rates were as high as they could reasonably be expected to be, given that older populations naturally produce and consume less, than younger ones do. By 2050, the public pension systems of most European countries will go broke for lack of sufficient new contributors.
Older populations have less energy, are more risk averse, and eventually retire from work altogether. So it should not surprise us that the ageing of a society slows that society’s economic growth rate. But that obvious fact is rarely mentioned in economic commentary. This leads to unrealistic expectations, foolish promises, inevitable disappointment, and eventually even to disillusionment with democracy.
It seems to me that the European countries that do the best job in including immigrants as productive members of the local community, are the countries that will do best economically, and will be best able to afford good health and pensions for their older citizens when they need it. I fear many older voters in Europe do not see that as clearly as they should.
Ireland is doing well in regard to providing opportunities for new immigrants at the moment. Our historic experience of emigration enables us to understand the intense loneliness of the recent immigrant.
SEEKING OUT MODELS FOR SUCCESSFUL INTEGRATION OF IMMIGRANTS
The presence of a large number of refugees from Ballaghadereen, at the recent All Ireland quarter Final between Mayo and Roscommon, is a sign of a great local effort at positive integration.
Italy is a country that is being required to absorb a very large number of African immigrants just now. But Italy is also a country with one of Europe’s lowest birth rates and historically poorest rates of economic growth. If Italy can make the recently arrived immigrant into productive Italian citizens it may turn a problem into an opportunity.
Spain is also a country for whom immigration can be an opportunity. We are all too well aware of the criminal attacks in Catalonia, but there are many examples of small rural communities in Spain making seasonal agricultural workers from Morocco welcome in their homes, and integrating them in local life. Immigrants have kept villages, that might otherwise have been abandoned, alive.
It is a big challenge to integrate people with radically different religious and ethnic backgrounds and build a new tolerant and cooperative society with a sense of mutual solidarity.
This is made more difficult by the segregation into ghettoes that arises because of the way the housing market operates in big cities, where people tend to live if different suburbs depending on their income and status. Rural societies may be better at integration because they are smaller scale, and segregation in daily life is less possible.
Innovative Government intervention may be needed to prevent ghettoisation, and to provide natural opportunities for people of different ethnicities and religions to meet, and have a good time together. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights deals with integration in a recent report, but its focus is on bureaucracy led action plans, and it contains few examples of successful community led initiatives are cited. Good examples are needed to give hope.
I am convinced that, one way or another, European society will become much more multi ethnic in the next 40 years, and that integration will be a challenge that will need to be faced at every level of society, not just at the level of the state or local authorities. It will be everybody’s business.
Sports organisations and religious communities have the greatest potential to integrate new arrivals.
Some might think that religion is likely to be a divisive force as far as immigration is concerned. I disagree. Some the best work being done in Germany to integrate Muslim refugees into German life is being done by Christian organisations, whose members see the welcoming of strangers in need, as a charitable imperative of their own Christian faith. Churches have a flexibility that bureaucracies can never attain. People who are confident in their own faith have ease in working with people whose faith is different.
Of course, not everybody will become integrated.
We need to try to understand the motivation of those who left European countries to join ISIS.
I understand that a high proportion of the ISIS recruits are young people who, until recently, had not been active observant Muslims but were of another faith, of no faith at all, or just indifferent. Many were recruited in prison. The zeal of the recent convert can be a dangerous thing.
This makes the case that proper religious education, as part of a good general education, is something socially valuable, in that it enables young people to make careful and informed judgement about religious matters, as they mature into adulthood.
THE ALIENATION OF SOME YOUNG PEOPLE
It is part of a wider problem. Young people, of all ethnicities in some countries, have become alienated from democratic systems of government. They may either not vote at all, or vote flippantly.
As a proportion of their income, younger people get fewer benefits from the state, and pay proportionately more taxes to it , than do older generations.
Among the benefits used disproportionately by older people are state subsidized pensions and healthcare. For example, it is because of its generous earnings related state pension system, and its excellent health service, that the bulk of social spending in France actually goes to those with higher than average incomes!
Older people are not always wise in the political choices they make.
Older people in the UK were among the strongest supporters of Brexit, allegedly because of an aversion to immigration. Yet the largest support for Brexit was found in areas that had had the least recent immigration.
FACING THE DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE IN GOOD TIME
The continuance of present levels of support for older people’s social services actually depends on the taxes and productive work of younger people, many of whom will have to be immigrants, because in most European countries there will simply not be enough native young people to pay the taxes needed to sustain the current levels of support for older retired people.
This problem is not going to ease.
Ireland’s national debt is 183 billion euros . But its eventual contingent liability for PRSI and public service pensions comes to 422 billion euros, which is not included in the national debt.
This contingent liability will be at its most onerous around 2050, which is when those now getting their first job will hope to be at the top of the salary scale. The shortfall will be three times as great in 2050 as it is today.
This may prove to be an under estimate, if life expectancy, and consequentially length of years in retirement, continues to grow at the present rate….3 months per year
On the other hand, it may prove to be an underestimate, if we have an enlightened and workable immigration policy, and the age imbalance is rectified by an influx of non Irish born people who will, because they are working here, be paying Irish taxes.
O CONNELL AND EUROPE
Daniel O Connell was widely admired across Europe.
In the month before he died , he set out for Rome , as a pilgrim hoping to see the Pope before he passed away. All along his journey through France, he was greeted by substantial crowds.
He did not make it to Rome. He died in Genoa . I was in Genoa last week and saw the house on the Via al Ponte Reale, near the port, where O Connell died. It is now a bar.
It is a tribute to the esteem in which he was held that , not long after his death, a fine plaque was erected, with a representation of O Connell by the sculptor Federico Fabiano.
O Connell was long remembered in Genoa because, 50 years after he died, an additional plaque was erected by the Catholics of Genoa remembering his work for religious liberty.
I doubt if any Irish politician since then has enjoyed such a positive reputation in Europe, as Daniel O Connell did.
As I expect you will hear tomorrow from Paul Gallagher SC, this was partly because of O Connell’s reputation as a lawyer, who could use the law to rectify injustice and protect liberty.
WHAT IS THE UNIQUE VALUE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION?
In essence the European Union is a law or rule based system. Common rules, interpreted and enforced consistency are the bedrock upon which freedom can be built, in trade and in daily life, between nations and between individuals.
The EU has provided its member states, including, for the past 44 years, the UK, with a common system for
- enforcing and
common rules on matters as diverse as food safety, aviation, intellectual property protection, and consumer protection in the purchase of financial products.
The fact that the rules are now common to all, means that food can be sold, airline competition facilitated, patents respected and savings protected across the whole 28 countries of the EU. It is really important for a business that seeks to sell goods and services across Europe to know that the standards the goods must comply with will be the same everywhere and that these rules will be enforced and interpreted in a consistent way in every EU country. Without the EU, none of this would be the case.
The fact that the rules can be amended in a single legislative process for all members saves a lot of time.
So too does the fact that they will, if necessary, be enforced effectively and uniformly across Europe, under the supervision of the European Commission.
The fact that these common rules will also be interpreted, in a uniform way across the whole of Europe, under the aegis of the ECJ, also avoids all sorts of confusion, haggling and duplication. The ECJ, and the rules it interprets in a consistent way, are essential to the freedom of EU citizens to live, work and trade across the whole Union.
Without the ECJ, the European Union would just be a temporary diplomatic expedient, of no durable value. The Brexit demands of the UK must not be allowed to change that. Without commonly interpreted rules, there is no lasting freedom.
INTERNAL CONTRADICTION IN UK POSITION ON TRADE RULES
The UK is turning its back on that.
Its position is internally self contradictory.
The recent UK Government White paper on Customs after Brexit claimed that the UK is
“a strong supporter of the rules based global trading system”.
Yet the UK is now leaving a rules based system, the EU, supposedly because it want to “take back control”. It wants to write its own rules for itself. That is quite simply inconsistent with supporting a rules based global system which, by definition, means GIVING UP some control.
As a non member of the EU, the UK will now have to negotiate a new deal on each topic now covered by an EU agreement, then agree a separate procedure for future amendments to that deal, and agree procedures for enforcing, and for interpreting the deal. This will take up a huge amount of time, unproductively for everybody involved.
KEEPING A SENSE OF PROPORTION……THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN EITHER THE EU OR THE UK
When the Brexit negotiations become fraught, as they undoubtedly will, UK and EU negotiators will need to remind themselves that we have more in common than divides us, and that we each live, close beside one another, in a continent whose global weight is much less than it was 100 years ago, and will become lesser still, as time goes on.
At the other end of the Eurasian land mass, China will double the size of its economy in the present decade. It adds to its GDP by an equivalent of the entire GDP of Turkey….every year.
China has ambitious plans for its global role, and China has the executive coherence and long term perspective, necessary to realize those goals.
At the moment Europe has neither the required executive coherence, nor the necessary shared longer term view of its future
China is thinking in ambitious geographic terms .It is promoting global connectivity through its “One Belt, One Road” concept.
The UK’s access to that Road, across the Eurasian land mass, runs entirely through the EU.
The access of Ireland to that trans Eurasian Road runs mainly through the UK. Brexit will put roadblocks on the road in two places. Not clever.
OPTIONS FOR A REFORMED EUROPEAN UNION WITHOUT THE UK
I will now turn to the internal dynamics of the EU itself, as I expect they will evolve in coming years, without Britain.
The European Commission has produced a White Paper which sets out five, rather stylised and artificial, scenarios.
These scenarios are
- Continuing on as we are
- Doing nothing but maintaining the Single Market
- Allowing countries that want to go ahead with more intense integration, to do so within the EU legal order, and with the possibility for others to join later
- Doing less more efficiently
- Doing much more together.
Given that it is difficult for 27 countries to agree on new tasks (It was much easier when there were only 9 or even 15 members), I think the first option, continuing on as we are, will be the easiest to follow. This is especially the case if the EU remains unwilling to amend its Treaties
The last option, doing much more together, does not have public support at the moment, but that could change suddenly, if some external shock made it easier to overcome the normal resistance and inertia. Among the activities envisaged, under this option, are a single European anti Terror agency and a single coast guard. These are not farfetched ideas, and indeed may be inevitable if passport free travel across member state boundaries is to continue.
The option of doing nothing but maintain the Single Market, is not very helpful in my view. In truth, it is almost impossible to agree where the Single Market ends, and other policies begin. The Commission is correct in saying that ”Single Market Only” option would make it more difficult to conclude more or deeper international trade agreements, because differences in some standards would persist within the EU.
The option of “doing less more efficiently” is not very different, and is meaningless in practice. According to the Commission paper, it would involve pursuing Single Market integration vigorously, but going slow on regional policy, and on social and public health policies that do not relate directly to the Single market. This option may appeal to net contributor countries, like Germany and perhaps Ireland, but would not appeal in Central and Eastern Europe. It may appeal to outsiders like the UK, Norway and Switzerland as it might reduce the fee they would pay for access to the Single market. But it would be strenuously resisted by many poorer EU states.
The idea of allowing some countries to “go ahead without the others” is one that has been around for a long time, and is actually provided for in Title IV of the EU Treaty governing what is known as “Enhanced Cooperation”.
While this provision has not been much used, it could be said that the euro, and the Schengen border control free zone, are already forms of enhanced cooperation.
I do not see Enhanced Cooperation as an ideal way forward for the future, because it dilutes the democratic unity of the EU, which is already put under enough strain by the division between Euro and “not yet Euro” members. Many will ask why a member state should have the same vote in the European Parliament, on a policy in which it is taking no part and making no financial contribution, as the MEPs from countries that are doing both. The Commission saw this scenario as allowing some countries to go further ahead on defence cooperation while other members might hang back.
Ireland will need to give serious thought to European defence questions.
It has to be recognised that influence of a member state in the EU will be commensurate with its commitment to and solidarity with other members.
A country that only wants to take part in policies from which it will gain, while going slow on things that might involve costs for it, will have less influence in the EU, and might not receive solidarity when it needs it, but it is hard to quantify this.
Too much “Enhanced Cooperation” could eventually lead to no cooperation.
Putting it another way, an EU which encourages some countries to go ahead while others hang back could quickly divide between” policy maker” countries, and “policy taker” countries. This is why Ireland has traditionally resisted a “two tier” Europe.
All in all, I felt the Commission’s options paper, while a start, requires a lot more work.
DOES THE EU PUBLIC KNOW WHAT IT WANTS FROM THE EU?
Public opinion also needs to be taken into account, in working out the priorities of the EU. But the problem is that public opinion varies widely between countries.
Asked in April 2016, just before the UK Referendum, what they wanted the EU to prioritise, the public came up with quite different answers in different countries.
Also in a poll last year, there were wide differences in the extent to which voters in different countries felt their voted counted for something in EU decision making , ranging from 70% of Danes feeling their vote counted in the EU, through 45% of Irish people, down to a mere 20% of Italians and 17% of Cypriots and Estonians.
80% of Greeks wanted the EU to do more to fight terrorism, and 69% of Italians did, but only 33% of the Dutch and 44% of Danes.
69% of Swedes and Spaniards wanted the EU to do more about the Environment, but only 28% of Estonians did .
EU action on Protecting External Borders was a priority for 73% of Greeks, but only 43% of Irish people and 35% of Swedes and Latvians wanted the EU to prioritise it.
Overall and on average, 44% of EU citizens felt the EU should be doing more about Security and Defence. But, to my surprise given their proximity to Russia, only 30% of Latvians and Estonians, and 25% of Danes, did so.
In contrast, 60% of Greeks , 56% of Italians and French, but only 41% of Germans felt the EU should do more on Security and Defence.
This would suggest that , a year ago anyway, there was not an overwhelming public demand for an EU defence policy. But that was before the election of Donald Trump.
Finally, given the low oil prices at the time, it is perhaps not surprising that so few European felt the EU should be doing more on Energy supply issues.
Yet a Single Energy market was identified as a priority issue by the European Commission even in their “Continuing as we are” scenario I mentioned earlier.
Only 36% of EU citizens felt the EU was not doing enough on the issue of Energy supply. The greatest support for more EU action on Energy supply was in Greece and Spain ( both 54%). In the Czech Republic, only 18% felt the EU should do more on Energy Supply questions
Given that Ireland is so completely dependent on, what will soon become a non EU country, for access to the international electricity grid, it interesting to note that support for a common EU policy on Energy Supply was below the EU average in Ireland, at a mere 33%. I expect that that will change.
CONCLUDING QUESTIONS……..ON SIX ISSUES
1.) The first big achievement of O Connells political career was winning for Catholics the right to sit and vote in Parliament in London. Remember Catholic Emancipation was not about the right to vote, which eligible Catholics already had, it was about Catholics being able to sit and vote in Parliament
+ Is it not a strange commentary on O Connell’s obtaining for Catholics the right to vote in Parliament in 1829, that none of his Irish Ulster co religionists, who are entitled to do so in 2017, will take their seats at a time when vital legislation, affecting Ireland, is to be decided in Westminster in a few days time?
2.) One of O Connell’s great causes, the ending of slavery, arose from his belief in the dignity of every defenceless human being.
+ As a society, do we respect that dignity today in our prisons? Do we respect the dignity of people before they are born, as well as we respect it after they are born? At what age do human rights commence, and end?
3.) O Connell mobilised people to come together to express themselves through peaceful political agitation. He was the first leader ever to encourage all the Irish people to stand up publicly and take responsibility for their future.
+ Is collective and rational political deliberation now being replaced by mob rule through the social media? Are we protecting people’s rights to say unpopular things, and to question modern orthodoxies? Do most voters think critically about the foreseeable consequences of their own choices for society as a whole, or do they prefer just to blame politicians if things do not work out afterwards as promised?
4.) European states have taken on substantial liabilities both to financial markets, and to their own people.
+ Should we have a national balance sheet as well as a national budget, so people will see clearly the obligations that will have to be met over the next 40 years?
5.)The Brexit negotiation could prove to be one of the most traumatic political conflicts of recent years, and could dig a physical and psychological trench between us, and our immediate neighbours.
+ Can we do more to mitigate the build up of pressure in these negotiations, by lengthening the Treaty based negotiation time line from two years to ( say) six years, allowing the UK to remain in the EU until the end of that period? If the UK was still in the EU at the time of the next European Elections in 2019, might not the Euro Elections not allow UK voters take a more considered view of their Brexit choice?
6.) I have summarised the options for the future of the EU put forward by the Commission. I am not aware that these options have been debated seriously anywhere. We are a long way away from developing a common EU wide public opinion that would support positive programme of further EU integration.
+ Does this not reveal a structural flaw in EU democracy? Should voters be able to vote for a government of the EU, just as they vote for a government of their own country? Is the shift in the power of initiative in the EU away from the Commission in favour of the 28 Heads of Government really helping the EU define a common policy that will appeal to voters across national boundaries?
The relentless news cycle, speeded up by instant communication, does not allow for the type of reflection and deliberation on public issues that was possible in O Connell’s time. That is why we should stand back and ask questions, like those I have just posed, at a summer school like this.
Address by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the O Connell Summer School in the Library Cahirciveen at 3 pm on Friday 25th August